The Family Friend or Housekeeper’s Instructor

By Loveday Herridge

In today’s Heritage Open Days blog, we introduce you to Priscilla Haslehurst of Sheffield.

Being a housekeeper in a respectable early nineteenth-century family was certainly not for the faint-hearted. You needed to know how to skin, gut, pluck and kill, to wrestle with a live 30 pound turtle, to thread larks onto a bird spit, to use pigs’ bladders like cling film. You needed strong arms and stamina, to carry large quantities of liquid for boiling, to beat ingredients together ‘for an hour or more’, to work for two days on a single dish. Your knowledge of roasting, boiling, pounding, cutting, frying, stewing, skimming, shredding, rubbing, broiling, fricasséeing, chopping, dressing, scoring, paring and straining must be confident. You needed to be familiar with the anatomy of animals and fish to prepare them for cooking, to have dramatic flair in creating eye-catching scenes for the table – a hen’s nest, a fish pond, Solomon’s Temple, the moon and stars, a floating island – artfully made from moulds with coloured blancmange and jelly, and you must have a deft hand to spin a silver or gold sugar web to cover sweetmeats. In the absence of refrigeration you must be willing to dry, bottle, pot, preserve and pickle, to make mushroom powder and preserved pineapples that would keep several years.

All these skills and more are utilised in a recipe book created by Sheffield’s Priscilla Haslehurst, copies of which can be found in Sheffield’s Central Library’s collections. Her first edition of The Family Friend or Housekeeper’s Instructor, containing a very complete collection of original and approved Receipts, in every branch of cookery, confectionary etc was published in 1802, and printed by James Montgomery, editor of the Sheffield Iris newspaper, and later poet, hymn writer and philanthropist. The second edition was also printed in 1802, this time by John Crome, radical printer, for whom a job like Ms Haslehurst’s might have financed some of his more revolutionary publications. (Crome would probably have been aware that he printed the book following a time of hunger in Sheffield; Sheffield’s first soup kitchens appeared in the severe winter of 1799-1800 after a disastrous harvest.) The book was successful and went into at least eight editions, and was sold in London as well as Sheffield and elsewhere. By the time of its 1814 edition the title of the book was The Family Friend and Young Woman’s Companion or Housekeeper’s Instructor, containing a very complete collection…etc, indicating who properly should be purchasing the book and occupying themselves with the recipes.

Haslehurst includes this paragraph in the introduction to her collection:

As the information contained in this little volume, is not carelessly copied from any similar work, but is really the fruit of twelve years of valuable experience, as housekeeper in very respectable families, and twenty years of diligent practice, as a confectioner and instructor of young persons in this necessary domestic knowledge in Sheffield, the author humbly hopes, by the accomplishment of her work, to deserve that patronage which has enabled her to lay it before the public, and which she gratefully acknowledges.

By ‘patronage’ Haslehurst means, I think, the subscriptions of the people listed at the end of the book. It was customary that the costs of publishing books were borne by friends of the author, or by people who wished to be seen as associated with the book. In this case there are 306 names listed, for the most part the wives, daughters and sisters of eminent Sheffield families, the wealthy industrialists and professional men who could provide elaborate feasts for their friends, families and colleagues. 

And what a surprising variety of different ingredients are used in the recipes in the book! Many varieties of fish, including anchovies, shellfish and lobster, in a town that is as far from the sea (though close to many rivers) as any in the country. There are many foods likely to have been brought to Yorkshire from milder counties in England (for example, soft fruit like Kentish cherries), as well as foods that are clearly imported – spices (such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, caraway seeds, saffron, mace and peppercorns), macaroni, Parmesan cheese, vermicelli, rice, ginger, Seville oranges, Jordan almonds, Malaga raisins, brandy, wine and lemons. The markets of Sheffield must have been lively and abundant places. Local butchers and dairies presumably produced the copious amounts of meat, butter and cream for Haslehurst’s kitchens. If the garden of the house where these recipes were utilised could not provide the required vegetables, individual local gardeners must have been ready to sell the elder buds, nasturtium buds, herbs, garlic, spinach, celery, carrots, walnuts, penny royal, leeks, raspberries, damsons, tansey, saffron, rosewater, berries, quinces, and so much more, that the recipes required.

Among the family recipes, which Haslehurst hopes will be ‘useful and agreeable, economical and elegant’, both familiar (Beef Steak Pie) and unfamiliar (Pickled Oysters, or Pigeons Compote), is the remarkable Portable Soup for Travellers, the precursor of packet soup and Oxo cubes, and surely one to try.

Take three large legs of veal, and one of beef, the lean part of half a ham, cut them in small pieces; put a quarter of a pound of butter at the bottom of a large cauldron, then lay in the meat and bones, with four ounces of anchovies, two ounces of mace; cut off the green leaves of five or six heads of celery, wash the heads quite clean, cut them small, put them in with three large carrots cut thin, cover the cauldron close and set it over moderate fire; when you find the gravy begins to draw, keep taking it up until you have got it all out; then put water in to cover the meat, set it on the fire again and let it boil slowly for four hours, strain it through a hair sieve into a clean pan and let it boil three parts away, then strain the gravy that you drew from the meat into the pan, let it boil gently and keep scumming the fat off very clean as it rises till it looks like thick glue; you must take great care when it is nearly enough that it does not burn; put in cayenne pepper to your taste, then pour it upon flat earthen dishes a quarter of an inch thick, and let it stand till the next day, and cut it with round tins a little larger than a crown piece, lay the cakes on dishes and set them in the sun to dry: this soup will answer best to be made in frosty weather; when the cakes are dry, put them in a tin box with writing paper, betwixt every cake and keep them in a dry place, this is a very useful soup to be kept in gentlemen’s families, for by pouring a pint of boiling water on one of the cakes, and a little salt, it will make a good basin of broth.  A little boiling water poured on it will make gravy for a turkey or fowls and the longer it is kept the better. N.B.  Remember to keep turning the cakes as they dry.

Reading the Recipes

By Val Hewson

In this Heritage Open Days blog, I find that a vintage recipe book unlocks my memory.

I am no cook. I enjoy food but am not particularly interested in the art of preparing it. There are people who read recipe books just for pleasure. Their favourites are worn – loved? – with wrinkled, stained, torn pages. Recipe cards, cuttings from magazines, scraps of paper fall from them. My recipe books sit, clean and mostly unused, on their shelf. But there is one which, though I don’t have a copy, is a stop on my reading journey: Be-Ro Home Recipes (Thomas Bell & Son Ltd, 1957).

My mum had a copy of the Be-Ro book when I was a small child. Where it came from, I don’t know. It was one of the few books in the house, perhaps one of the first I ever saw, and I suppose this is why it is so clear in my mind. The solid Be-Ro logo. The recipe titles in a font that mimics handwriting. Black and white illustrations of cakes, biscuits and pies. Line drawings of women pouring, mixing, beating (and, I see, the only man to feature, shown sitting back, relaxing, as his wife or girlfriend unpacks a picnic basket). Clearest of all to me, the cover photo of a young woman, smiling in her blue blouse and red and white checked apron. Her pose is awkward, half-turning, the Be-Ro book in her left hand and a mixing bowl, measuring jug, cake tin, eggs and, of course, Be-Ro flour on the table in front of her.

Thomas Bell & Son was a Newcastle firm, and this somehow made it special to me as a Geordie. The name came about from a shortening of ‘Bells Royal’, the original name for the company’s self-raising flour and baking powder. In the 1920s, Bells produced the first of their recipe books and distributed them free. This proved to be a brilliant way to establish the brand. There have been about 40 editions over the last hundred years – with updated ingredients and recipes but similar in format – and the name Be-Ro is still familiar.

At least, in my experience, the name is familiar in the north of England and in the Midlands but much less so in the south. When I mentioned it to my Sheffield neighbours, all of a certain age, all northerners, they nodded.

Be-Ro!

I’ve still got a Be-Ro book.  

It helped me learn the basics – making pastry or a sponge cake and that sort of thing. Techniques. And then you could make other things.

Regulo. Do you remember Regulo? My grandkids don’t know what I mean. They laugh.

My mum was a very good cook, who served an excellent Sunday lunch and had a light hand with cakes and pies. She made the best egg custard I’ve ever tasted. But she was not a great one for cookery books. Be-Ro is the only one I remember. My dad liked the food he had always known so there was little call for innovation or experiment. My mum’s skill came from long practice, handed on from her mother or elder sisters. At least, I suppose they taught her. She never said and I never asked.

I do know that our Christmas Cake recipe came from Be-Ro, although my mum always added extra cherries, because I loved them. She never iced the cake, which Be-Ro suggested, as none of us liked icing much. Once made, the cake was put away in a tin until Christmas. A second cake was usually made for my birthday a few months later. Plain fruit cake, perhaps with a slice of cheese, is still my cake of choice.  

Christmas Cake

12 ozs Be-Ro self-raising flour

One teaspoonful mixed spice

4 ozs ground almonds

8 ozs currants

8 ozs sultanas

8 ozs raisins (optional)

4 ozs cherries (halved)

4 ozs peel (chopped)

8 ozs butter

8 ozs caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten with

8 tablespoonsfuls milk

1.   Clean and mix the fruit.

2.   Mix flour, spice and ground almonds.

3.   Beat butter and sugar to a cream in a warm bowl.

4.   Beat eggs and milk together.

5.   Stir in (alternately a little at a time) the flour mixture and eggs and milk, with the butter and sugar.

6.   Add the fruit last.

7.   Mix thoroughly. If a darker cake is desired, add one teaspoonful of gravy browning.

8.   Use a large round cake tin (8” in diameter) lined with greased paper.

9.   Bake about 4 hours, the first hour in a moderate oven (350°-375° F. Regulo 3-4) and then a slow oven (250°-300° F. Regulo 1-2)

Be-Ro Home Recipes (1957)

As I turn the pages, other recipes from 1957 look familiar: scones, drop scones, girdle cakes (‘griddle cakes’ in our house), ginger cakes, sly cake, jam tarts, mince pies, rock cakes, custard tarts and maids of honour. Until I started reading, I had forgotten that my mum used to make all of these. With changing fashions, most of them have disappeared from more recent editions, replaced by carrot cake, lemon drizzle cake and banoffee pancakes.

When she was baking, I was usually allowed to press down the edge of the pastry on the tart my mum was making and to make neat airholes with a fork. She used to let me have some pastry to play with. Kneeling on a chair to reach the table, I would roll the pastry out and turn it and roll it and turn it, until it was grey and sticky. It would be a ‘cake for the birds’, we pretended.

I don’t know what happened to my mum’s Be-Ro. Perhaps it fell apart with use and was thrown out. Or it got lost when she moved house. In her later years, she no longer cooked much, and in any case, after so long, she must have had the recipes by heart.  

Perhaps I should have a go.

Three Rules for Pastry Making

1. Handle it lightly.

2. Keep it cool.

3. Bake it in a HOT oven.

Cool hands, a cool slap, and water as cold as possible help you to produce the best results. Use the finger-tips, as they are the coolest part of the hands. Always mix with a knife. Add the water gradually, using as little as possible, as the pastry should be very stiff. After adding water, avoid adding more flour, as this spoils pastry.

Pastry requires a HOT OVEN. Bake on the top shelf, as this part is the hottest. 

Be-Ro Home Recipes (1957)

Thanks to Lizz Tuckerman for lending me the Be-Ro book, which you can see on display during September at Sheffield Central Library in our Heritage At Home exhibition. The Be-Ro story can be found here.

Fresh from a WW1 Field Kitchen: a Palatable Recipe from Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1928)

By Chris Hopkins

For our fourth Heritage Open Days blog, Chris Hopkins, Emeritus Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University, looks at food in a German novel which was tremendously popular in Britain.


Dust-wrapper from Putnam’s Cheap Edition, 1930, scanned by the author from copy in his collection.
 

Erich Remarque’s novel about the trenches was first published as a newspaper serial in Germany in 1928 and grabbed public attention both because it remembered a war which many people did not wish to talk about openly at this point, and because it was seen as vehemently opposed to war (leading to the work being denounced by Nazi newspapers, and later being banned and burnt when the Nazis came to power). It very soon appeared as a book, quickly became a best-seller in Germany, and was translated swiftly into some twenty-two languages. The English version by A W Wheen was published in 1929, with the German title, Im Westen nichtes Neues translated as All Quiet on the Western Front (rather than the more literal, ‘Nothing New in the West’.) This equally became an immediate best-seller both in Britain and the USA. Many readers and critics (though by no means all) who were veterans of the trenches saw it as capturing trench warfare for the ordinary infantryman with astonishing accuracy, often leading to a sense that whichever side one had fought on, the war was a shared experience of futile agony. The American film-version (directed by Lewis Milestone, produced by Universal Studios, 1930) was also a critical and public success, and both novel and film have been written about extensively ever since.

Still from the 1930 film: central character Paul Bäumer with a French woman (actress uncredited), when his platoon is behind the lines, and with his ‘gift’ of bread and sausage prominent. Though in both novel and film, this incident is relatively romanticised, the relationship is clearly in the nature of an exchange of scarce food for sex. Image from the Realart Pictures theatrical re-release of the film between 1948 and 1966 (scanned by the author from his collection).

Food might not seem the most central topic in a war book, but in fact there is a great deal of reference to food in All Quiet on the Western Front and it plays an important part in the book. The young men in the trenches (most schoolboys only months before) are hungry nearly all the time, and food is one of their few sources of pleasure and comfort, but ‘our provisions are generally bad’ (Vintage kindle edition, translated by Brian Murdoch, 1993, location 1272). A German veteran, Karl von Clemm, interviewed in Episode 2 of the excellent ‘People’s Century’ documentary, The Killing Fields: 1914, (BBC 1, first broadcast in the UK September 1995) recalls that they were often issued with soup made of dried vegetables, which was nicknamed ‘barbed wire’, because it was so hard and tasteless, unless you could find some meat to add. He says that a horse freshly killed by gunfire would be quickly stripped completely of its flesh by passing infantry so they could improve their meals (a YouTube copy covers French, British and German trench provisions from16.55 to 18.36 minutes in: People’s Century Part 02 1914 Killing Fields – YouTube). Poor food was common in British trenches too, and of course, delivery of hot, varied and nutritious food to the front-line was difficult, but the German situation became increasingly bad as the allied blockade of German ports had a major impact on food supplies for both civilians and soldiers.

All Quiet begins with a meal. It is the first thing the central character, Paul Bäumer, tells us about:

We are in camp five miles behind the line. Yesterday our relief arrived; now our bellies are full of bully beef and beans, we’ve had enough to eat and we’re well satisfied. We were even able to fill up a mess-tin for later, every one of us, and there are double rations of sausage and bread as well – that will keep us going. We haven’t had a stroke of luck like this for ages.

All Quiet on the Western Front, location 30.

The great stroke of luck the company has had is that they have been sent huge quantities of food – enough to satisfy even their hunger. It is, though, as Paul, says all a mistake (‘the Army is never that good to us’). When they were sent into the front trenches, there were one-hundred-and fifty men, but a British artillery barrage has caught the company badly, and seventy men have been killed. This is the good luck – Paul and his comrades have been sent seventy extra meals, which they do their best to eat. Of course, part of the point of this opening incident is to make clear, without ever having to state it, how much the war has desensitised these boys, has made the grossly abnormal, normal: they have no time, nor will, to think about seventy dead men, but are glad to eat their fill. The extra food is still at least a bodily and mental comfort, whatever outrage delivered it to them.

There are dozens of references to food in the novel – mainly to beans, potatoes, turnips, bread and beef, which are the most common rations (the beef is usually bully beef, and Paul says that when they can, they take enemy corned beef from captured trenches because it is so much better tasting). The turnips are fine as turnips, but have bad associations because the overall German food situation is so bad that the authorities have had to resort to ersatz foods. A new recruit reports, perhaps sarcastically, on his food in the barracks before being sent to the trenches: ‘Bread made out of turnips for breakfast, turnips for lunch, and turnip cutlets with turnip salad in the evening’ (location 392). They seem rarely to be given other vegetables (not even dried), but they do crave them (‘we want fresh vegetables’, location 2456) and they steal potatoes, peas, carrots and cauliflowers from the farmers’ fields when they can. We get a few references to Army meals: in the barracks there is ‘a watery rice soup’ (location 2015) with miniscule strips of beef, and there is one reference to luxurious sausages with red cabbage being served in the hospital, but the staples seem to be hashes or stews of corned beef cooked with potatoes or with beans, the last being most popular with the men.

German soldiers at a field kitchen in World War One (F7PHM6) (copyright History World Archive/Alamy Images and reproduced with their kind permission).

Sometimes, the men think of favourite meals from home (‘buckwheat pancakes with bacon’ in one case), but ironically in fact such meals have disappeared: food for the Army is prioritised and the civilians are starving. When Paul goes home, he is given by his mother the great treat of potato pancakes with cranberries, but this is now a rare thing. Anticipating the situation, he has managed illicitly to obtain some army supplies for his family, and empties from his pack: ‘a whole Edam cheese … two Army-issue loaves, three-quarters of a pound of butter, two cans of liver sausage, a pound of lard and a bag of rice’ (location 1720). When his mother asks him if he has enough to eat ‘out there’, he says they manage. One night at the front, when the men are occupying a ruined factory and have nothing to eat, and cannot sleep for hunger, the character Tjaden (unhelpfully?),

Describes his local specialty, broad beans cooked with bacon. He is scathing about people who try to cook it without the right chopped herbs. But the main thing is that the ingredients all have to be cooked together – the potatoes, beans and bacon must not, for God’s sake, be cooked separately. Somebody grumbles that he will chop Tjaden into the right herbs if he doesn’t shut up at once.

All Quiet on the Western Front, location 424.

I am not saying that other dishes named in the novel might not be worth trying (those buckwheat pancakes, and no doubt miracles can be done with corned beef and potatoes, though not keen on the horse-meat …), but Tjaden’s favourite recipe is actually one I recognise and have often cooked and eaten, so it is my suggestion if you would like to try some food craved by these trench-dwellers, if not actually produced by a field kitchen. The dish is usually called Hanoverian Hot-pot and the way I make it is to fry onions, bacon and potatoes in rapeseed oil, then add stock and sliced carrots, and a sliced cooking apple. When the potatoes and carrots are not quite done, add broad beans, and green beans. Also add at this point two bay leaves, a bouquet garni, and chopped fresh dill (or dried if necessary) – which I can only hope are the right herbs according to Tjaden. Cook until the vegetables are all done and the apple has collapsed into the stock, thickening and flavouring it (if you like quantities and more precise timings here is a more professional recipe, with some minor variations from my method: Hanovarian bacon hotpot recipe | Schwartz). I hope it is palatable – a meatless version is good too – enjoy!

I’m not sure if Tjaden would approve of either of these versions of his dish (I do not cook everything together quite, and the apple seems essential and distinctive to me). I realise that my blog has had a slight change of gear towards the end, turning from lit crit to cookery, but the serious point about All Quiet on the Western Front remains. Food is important in the novel partly because it satisfies (for a while) a craving for the comfort of body and mind, but also at the same time shows that the lives of these soldiers are reduced to the basics. If they can sleep and find food, and stay alive, they can, in this abandonment of all other ambition, ask no more. Food in the novel is strongly linked to theft and lawlessness – the odd ‘lucky’ slaughter of comrades apart, it is the only way to get good food – but also to self-reliance: it is one of the few things the men can influence themselves and use their skills, knowledge and ingenuity on. They care nothing now for the nation-state they are supposedly fighting for, or for any larger social structure: they are set down in a world which makes little sense, and they must make their own way in it. The novel somehow simultaneously lets us understand the losses (including notable moral losses) brought about by being reduced to the basics, but also lets us appreciate how important those basics are. The comrade Paul most admires is Katczinsky, known as Kat, largely because of his food-gathering skills. The night when they cannot sleep for hunger in the ruined factory, and after Tjarden shares his recipe, Kat saves them by actually delivering real food:

Kat appears … he is carrying two loaves under his arm, and a blood-stained sandbag full of horsemeat in his hand …Kat has the knack of cooking horse-meat so it is really tender. You mustn’t put it straight into the pan or it will be too tough. It has to be parboiled in a little water beforehand. We sit around in a circle with our knives, and fill our bellies.

That’s Kat … he can find anything – camp stoves and firewood when it is cold, hay and straw, tables, chairs – but above all he can find food. No one understands how he does it … his masterpiece was four cans of lobster. Mind you, we would really have preferred dripping instead.

All Quiet on the Western Front, location 439.

What most satisfying and sustaining – sophistication or the most basic things? Depends on your situation. Lobster or dripping for you?

Dickens and More Wittles

By Sue Roe

For today’s Heritage Open Days blog, it’s back to Dickens.

Dickens was a bit of a foodie himself. His favourite dish was lamb stuffed with oysters and to drink, he relished a glass of Smoking Bishop or Gin Punch. He loved entertaining and held regular dinner parties. A convivial host, he had an ample wine cellar: his 1865 cellar lists a 50 gallon cask of ale, 18 gallon of gin, 18 dozen bottles of port, four dozen bottles of champagne and sundry others. He clearly was no fan of the Temperance Movement – he thought the working class deserved some enjoyment. After the forced separation from his wife, his sister-in-law Georgina acted as housekeeper. Here is one of her menu cards.

Menu card for dinner, probably at Gad’s Hill in the 1860s, with Charles Dickens’ cest (Charles Dickens Museum)

His wife Catherine was a foodie too: she published a cookery book of her recipes, What Shall We Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons (1852), under the pseudonym Maria Clutterbuck. It included many of Dickens’ favourite recipes but was not just a cook book. Catherine focussed on menu planning, and included some recipes which the author claimed were commonly ‘misunderstood’. Books on household management and etiquette were becoming increasingly popular as the rising middle class looked for guidance in order to avoid social faux pas.

Bill of Fare for Two to Three Persons, from Catherine Dickens’ cookery book, What Shall We Have for Dinner?

Despite his wife’s skills as a cook, the depiction of women in the kitchen reveal something of Dickens’ attitude to women. Dora, David Copperfield’s child-like first wife, and Bella Wilfer (Mrs John Rokesmith) in Our Mutual Friend (1865) share an ignorance of even the simplest culinary skills. They are an interesting contrast to Peggotty, the kind hearted cook in David Copperfield (1850), or Mrs Joe, Pip’s sister, in Great Expectations (1861), who runs a very tight ship in her kitchen!

In David Copperfield our eponymous hero and his wife, Dora, seem to be at the mercy of butchers and other tradesmen:

I could not help wondering in my own mind, as I contemplated the boiled leg of mutton before me, previous to carving it, how it came to pass that our joints of meat were of such extraordinary shapes – and whether our butcher contracted for all the deformed sheep that came into the world; but I kept my reflections to myself.

David Copperfield, chapter 44.

Our Housekeeping by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Image scan and text by Philip V Allingham.

On the same occasion Dora had ordered in a barrel of oysters (one of Dickens’ favourites):

… we had no oyster-knives – and couldn’t have used them if we had; so we looked at the oysters and ate the mutton.

Bella Wilfer has a similar lack of skills, though she does try to improve them. On one occasion she informs her family ‘I mean to be Cook today’ (Our Mutual Friend, chapter 4), much to the shock and surprise of her mother who does instruct her. However she is not very successful. Of the fowls she has cooked she comments:

‘But what makes them pink inside … is it the breed ?’ ‘No, I don’t think it’s the breed, my dear,’ returned Pa. ‘I rather think it is because they are not done.’ ‘They ought to be,’ said Bella. ‘Yes, I am aware they ought to be, my dear,’ rejoined her father, ‘but they – ain’t.’

Later, as the newly married Mrs John Rokesmith, she was:

fast developing a perfect genius for home… Such weighing and mixing and chopping and grating … and above all such severe study! For Mrs J R, who had never been wont to do too much at home as Miss B W, was under the constant necessity of referring for advice and support to a sage volume entitled The Complete British Family Housewife.

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 5.

This book seems to bear comparison to Yottam Ottolenghi, with both recommending hard to source ingredients – in the former case a salamander!

Behaviour at mealtimes is not forgotten. When Pip goes up to London on coming into his Great Expectations, he lodges with Herbert Pocket who tutors him on table manners:

… in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth, – for fear of accidents … Also, the spoon is not generally used over-hand …

Great Expectations, chapter 22.

Mealtimes are also worthy of note in Our Mutual Friend: the Veneerings are a nouveau riche couple:

“… bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new … they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby.”

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 2.

They give excellent dinners .. or new people wouldn’t go!

Dickens doesn’t spend much time describing what is eaten at these dinners – he is more interested in the table decorations, a display of conspicuous consumption:


The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and the company. Reflects the new Veneering crest in gold and eke in silver, frosted and also thawed, a camel of all work. … and a caravan of camels take charge of the fruits and flowers and candles, and kneel down to be loaded with salt.

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 2.

The Veneering Dinner, by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Lady Tippins is on the left behind one of the camels; the man in the background with the champagne bottle is probably the Analytical Chemist (the butler)!

Champagne was served with most courses after a sherry. The culinary similes continue: Lady Tippins, a regular visitor to these dinners, has ‘an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon’ (Our Mutual Friend, chapter2).

In Our Mutual Friend we are even given an idea of what might appear in a small Victorian kitchen. The solicitor Eugene Wrayburn and his friend Mortimer Lightwood have taken new offices together and the former takes Mortimer on a tour of ‘This very complete little kitchen of ours’ (chapter 6).

‘See!’ said Eugene, ’miniature flour-barrel, rolling-pin, spice-box, shelf of brown jars, chopping-board, coffee-mill, dresser elegantly furnished with crockery, saucepans and pans, roasting jack, a charming kettle, an armoury of dish-covers. …

In his exploration of food and drink, mealtimes, household management, there is often unwitting testimony to the changing habits of the different classes. He and Catherine initially would have served meals at their dinner parties à la française where all the main courses are displayed on the dining table. He would surely have relished playing mine host, carving the joint, serving his guests.

However in 1843, Catherine wrote to a friend that the dinner is in ‘the new fashion’. This was service à la russe where food was served to guests in courses – often ensuring much hotter meals but necessitating more servants and tableware.

Dickens even saw training in domestic skills as a way out for homeless women; he worked with Angela Burdett-Coutts to set up a home, Urania Cottage, for ‘fallen women’ where they were taught household skills including needlework and cookery. He took an active interest in the running of the project, personally interviewing all the applicants.

Dickens despite his fame and wealth clearly had not forgotten those ‘in misery and despair’ (letter to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1846). The experience of childhood poverty and the ignominy of working in the blacking factory seem never to have left him.

Here, from Dinner with Dickens, by Pen Vogler, is a recipe Dickens would surely have enjoyed.

Mutton Stuffed with Oysters

SERVES 6-8

2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped savoury

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

6 oysters, cleaned, shucked, and chopped, reserving the liquor, or 6 finely chopped anchovies

3 garlic cloves, minced (I think garlic is better than onion in this dish, but if you prefer to follow Catherine, use one very finely chopped shallot)

leg of mutton (or lamb if you cannot find mutton), approx. 5½-6¾ lb/2.5-3kg

2 teaspoons all-purpose/plain flour

1¼ cups/300ml lamb or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C/Gas 7. Chop the herbs as finely as possible – a meat cleaver is useful for this. Bind them together with the egg yolks, oysters (or anchovies), and garlic (or shallot). Using a sharp knife, make about 6 indentations in the fleshy part of the leg of mutton (or lamb) and push in the mixture. If you make the indentations at a slight angle, you can pull the fat back over the cut. Place the meat in a roasting pan and roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325°F/160°C/Gas 3. Baste the joint with the fat and juices in the pan and continue roasting for 15-20 minutes per 1 lb/450g. When the meat is done, remove it from the oven, cover with foil, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Make the gravy by mixing the flour with the fat in the roasting dish over a low heat, and slowly adding the stock and the oyster liquor. Skim the fat off the gravy (putting it in the freezer helps it coagulate on the top) and serve as it is, or add to the Piquant Sauce ingredients.

Piquant Sauce

1 shallot, finely chopped

a little oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped gherkins

1 tablespoon finely chopped capers

4 tablespoons good red wine vinegar

1 anchovy fillet, pounded

Sweat the shallot in the oil until it softens, then add the gherkins, capers, and vinegar. Simmer for 4 minutes. Make gravy from the joint, add the oyster liquor (to make about 1¼ cups/300ml), the shallot mixture, and the pounded anchovy. Simmer for a few minutes before serving in a gravy boat.

Bibliography

Charles Dickens: Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, Great Expectations.

What Shall We have for Dinner? by Lady Maria Clutterbuck [Catherine Dickens] (Bradbury & Evans, 1852).

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens, by Pen Vogler (CICO, 2017).

‘Dinner Is the Great Trial: Sociability and Service à la Russe in the Long Nineteenth Century,’ by Graham Harding, European Journal of Food Drink and Society: Vol 1: Iss 1, Article 4 (2021).

Dickens and Wittles

By Sue Roe

Here is the first of our blogs about literary food. We’ll post one daily throughout Heritage Open Days 2021, and maybe a few afterwards, as there is plenty to say about the subject.

Dickens was one of the most common authors mentioned by Reading Sheffield interviewees. Sometimes their parents had subscribed to a newspaper like the Daily Herald to get a complete set, like Frank and Eva. Some loved the length and detail of the books though some found them too wordy. Florence found that they ‘bored her to death’. However the majority found them inspiring, especially his depiction of the suffering of the poor.

Food plays an important part in many of the novels of Dickens – this is not surprising given his childhood experience of poverty and insecurity. Despite his subsequent rise to fame and fortune, he doesn’t seem to have forgotten his time in the blacking factory or his family’s time in the debtors’ prison. In his books there are feasts, snacks, impromptu dinners. References to food help to highlight social ills and reveal internal turmoil.

The treatment of the poor and the unwanted was a subject dear to his heart. Oliver’s desperate plea is well known:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.

Oliver Twist (1838), chapter 2.

Oliver asking for more, by George Cruikshank, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Similarly the dosing of the boys of Dotheboys Hall with brimstone and treacle gives Nicholas Nickleby an early indication of how Mr and Mrs Squeers run the school.

The Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall, by Hablot Browne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Food or the lack of it can highlight even the plight of the convict on the run from the hulks.

When Pip meets Magwitch in the opening chapter of Great Expectations on Christmas Eve, the convict quizzes him on the two necessities:

‘Do you know what a file is?’ … ‘And you know what wittles is?’

The terrible stranger in the churchyard, by F W Pailthorpe. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

There is a cannibalistic flavour to this cross questioning – Magwich threatens to have Pip’s heart and liver if he doesn’t deliver – they will be ‘tore out, roasted and ate’! When he gets home he resorts to hiding his slice of bread and butter for the convict down the leg of his trousers in case he can’t find anything else. That gets him into more trouble with Mrs Joe: she doses him with tar water for ‘bolting’ his food. Getting up early he proceeds to rob the pantry:

Some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat … some brandy from a stone bottle … a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork pie.

Great Expectations (1861), chapter 2.

All this he duly delivers to the convict. On Christmas Day there was a splendid dinner planned:

… a leg of pickled pork and greens and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince pie had been made … and the pudding was already on the boil.

Great Expectations, chapter 4.

Pip’s larceny is about to be revealed when he is rescued by the timely arrival of the militia who need Joe’s skills as a blacksmith. Fortunately for Pip when Magwich is re-captured he confesses to the theft of the food and drink.

Dickens was clearly fond of pies. In Our Mutual Friend (1865) Mr Boffin has invited the unscrupulous Silas Wegg home to read a series of history books to him. Alas Boffin can’t read. Wegg spots a pie on the shelf:

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that object up there a – a pie? It can’t be a pie.’ … ‘It’s a veal and ham pie,’ said Mr. Boffin. … ‘And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is a better pie than a weal and hammer,’ said Mr Wegg …

‘It would be hard to name a pie that is better than weal and ham … and meaty jelly … is very mellering to the organ. Mr Wegg did not say what organ…”

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 5.

Sam Weller makes a similar observation in The Pickwick Papers (1837):

‘Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens…’

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 19.

Food often serves as a sombre metaphor – who can forget the tragedy of Miss Havisham with her wedding feast being devoured by mice and shrouded by cobwebs, a reflection of her broken heart and diseased mind. She asks Pip:

‘What do you think that is?…that, where those cobwebs are? …  It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’

Great Expectations, chapter 11.

She continues:

‘On this day … long before you were born, this heap of decay … was brought here … The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than the teeth of mice have gnawed at me.’

Pip and Miss Havisham, by Charles Green. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Dickens had certain professions in his sights: lawyers, politicians, the clergy and medical men. In The Pickwick Papers he satirises two hard drinking medical students: Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen. They have taken an apothecary’s shop in Bristol which is sinking into bankruptcy. They can still entertain Mr Winkle however:

… Bob Sawyer’s return was the immediate precursor of the arrival of a meat-pie [again!] from the baker’s, of which that gentleman insisted on his [Mr Winkle’s] staying to partake.

After dinner, Mr Bob Sawyer ordered in the largest mortar in the shop, and proceeded to brew a reeking jorum of rum-punch therein, stirring up and amalgamating the materials with a pestle in a very creditable and apothecary-like manner. Mr Sawyer, being a bachelor, had only one tumbler in the house, which was assigned to Mr Winkle as a compliment to the visitor, Mr Ben Allen being accommodated with a funnel with a cork in the narrow end, and Bob Sawyer contented himself with one of those wide-lipped crystal vessels inscribed with a variety of cabalistic characters, in which chemists are wont to measure out their liquid drugs in compounding prescriptions. These preliminaries adjusted, the punch was tasted, and pronounced excellent; and it having been arranged that Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen should be considered at liberty to fill twice to Mr. Winkle’s once, they started fair, with great satisfaction and good-fellowship.

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 38.
Conviviality at Bob Sawyer’s by Phiz (Hablot Browne). Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Yet food can also be a source of joy and celebration, as it is in A Christmas Carol (1843) despite the misanthropic start. When Scrooge first meets Marley’s Ghost he dismisses him with a food -inspired joke:

‘… A slight disorder of the stomach … You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you …’

A Christmas Carol, Stave 1.

However with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present his room is transformed and food plays a key part: a veritable cornucopia:

Heaped on the floor … were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch …

Scrooge’s Third Visitor, by John Leech. Public domain, via WikiArt.

The Spirit takes him to the home of Bob Cratchit, his clerk, where he sees all the Cratchits involved in preparing the Christmas Eve Dinner:

Mrs Cratchit made the gravy … Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce …

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3.

Their oven was too small for their goose so it was cooked at the baker’s as was the custom at the time. When it was collected:

There was never such a goose. … Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.

This was followed by the pudding which had been steaming in the copper in the backyard.

… Mrs Cratchit entered … with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball … blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly …

The Wonderful Pudding, by Sol Eytinge. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

The end of A Christmas Carol is well known. Scrooge is reformed; he sends the Cratchit  family the biggest turkey in the poulterer’s, and he raises Bob’s wages:

… I’ll raise you salary … and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop …

A Christmas Carol, Stave 5.

The Reformed Scrooge with Bob Cratchit, by Charles Green. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

In fact some credit Dickens and A Christmas Carol with inventing Christmas as we know it: plum pudding was common at that time of year but Eliza Acton was the first to name it Christmas Pudding, two years after the publication of the book.

In The Pickwick Papers food appears regularly: dinners, parties, picnics: all occasions of great conviviality and good humour.

Pickwick meets the Wardles when he is chasing his hat blown off by the wind.

Mr Pickwick in chase of his hat, by Robert Seymour. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

The members of the Pickwick club are invited to join their picnic which is unpacked from a large hamper by Joe the fat boy:

Now, Joe, knives and forks.’ The knives and forks were handed in, and the ladies and gentlemen inside, and Mr Winkle on the box, were each furnished with those useful instruments.

‘Plates, Joe, plates.’ A similar process employed in the distribution of the crockery.

‘Now, Joe, the fowls. Damn that boy; he’s gone to sleep again. Joe! Joe!’ (Sundry taps on the head with a stick, and the fat boy, with some difficulty, roused from his lethargy.) ‘Come, hand in the eatables.’

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 4.

On another occasion the Pickwick Club travel down for a wedding and to spend Christmas at Dingley Dell with the Wardles. Pickwick has purchased a huge cod-fish and half a dozen barrels of real native oysters for the festivities. There are wedding breakfasts, dinners, music, dancing, story-telling and games of Blind Man’s Bluff and Snapdragon.[1]

… and when fingers enough were burned with that and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a might bowl of wassail …

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 28.

Christmas at Mr Wardle’s, by Phiz (Hablot Browne). Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Here, by way of a conclusion, are two recipes for Smoking Bishop, a favourite of Dickens.  

Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon, stick cloves in the incisions, and roast the lemon by a slow fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, cloves, mace, and all-spice, and a race of ginger, into a saucepan, with half a pint of water; let it boil until it is reduced one half. Boil one bottle of port wine; burn a portion of the spirit out of it, by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan. Put the roasted lemons and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. Rub a few knobs of sugar on the rind of a lemon, put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon, (not roasted,) pour the wine upon it, grate some nutmeg into it, sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it.

Oranges, although not used in Bishop at Oxford, are, as will appear by the following lines, written by Swift, sometimes introduced into that beverage. ‘Fine oranges Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup, They’ll make a sweet Bishop when gentlefolks sup’.

From Oxford Night Caps: A Collection of Recipes for Making Various Beverages in the University (1827), by Richard Cook.

And a modern version from Punchdrink:

Ingredients: 750 ml ruby port; 750 ml red wine; 1 cup water; ½ cup brown sugar; ¼ teaspoon ginger, freshly grated; ¼ teaspoon allspice, ground; ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated; 4 oranges; 20 cloves, whole. Garnish: clove-studded orange slice.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash and dry oranges. Pierce and stud each orange with five cloves.

3. Place oranges in a baking dish and roast until lightly browned all over, 60-90 minutes.

4. Add port, wine, water, sugar and spices to a saucepan, and simmer over low heat.

5. Slice oranges in half and squeeze juice into the wine and port mixture.

6. Serve in a punch bowl, and ladle into individual glasses.

Bibliography

Charles Dickens: Pickwick Papers; Nicholas Nickelby; Our Mutual Friend; Oliver Twist; Great Expectations; A Christmas Carol.

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens, by Pen Vogler (CICO, 2017).


[1] Snapdragon was a popular parlour game often played on Christmas Eve. Raisins were dropped into a bowl of heated brandy which was then set alight. The point of the game was to pick out the raisins, and the winner was whoever amassed the most.